An archaeological excavation project in Ilan County at an expressway construction site successfully demonstrates the harmonious co-existence of economic development and cultural preservation, according to experts.
In the research offices and labs of the Ilan County Cultural Bureau, tens of thousands of pieces of Kavalan cultural remains found at the Kibannoran historic site (淇武蘭遺址) in Chiaohsi Township are waiting to be pieced together and studied.
Chiaohsi, which sits beside sea volcanoes, is well known for its murmuring hot springs and beautiful environment.
However, the existing winding roadways tourists must use to travel to the area from metropolitan Taipei have long been regarded as one of the major obstacles hampering development in the rural county.
In 1994, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) launched the Taipei-Ilan Expressway project, hoping to shorten the hour-long drive between Taipei City and Ilan to only 25 minutes by 2007.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the development project was passed early on with a "conditional" rating. The route's proximity to several sites in Chiaohsi containing Kavalan cultural artifacts had already been confirmed, and many researchers were worried about the impact of the construction project on such sites.
Therefore, the EIA committee required up-to-date and regular reviews of the progress being made with historic sites in Chiaohsi from the MOTC during the construction project's evaluation process.
In June 2001, numerous animal and human remains, as well as pieces of pottery and houses, were inadvertently found by engineers, who were working near an estuary of the township's Tetzekou River. After spending five months investigating the site, the Ilan County Government officially carried out an archaeological excavation project with anthropologists from National Taiwan University.
In July 2002, construction of the expressway was suspended after researchers confirmed that the proposed route passed directly through the historic site. Since then, the MOTC not only re-evaluated the situation, but also teamed up with researchers to salvage cultural remains dating from as early as 800 AD.
According to the Ilan County Cultural Bureau, there have been two different cultural sites uncovered at different levels in the strata of the site since the excavation project was launched in late 2001.
In the upper layer, which is only 20cm to 30cm beneath sea level, pottery and other artifacts produced by the Kavalan Aboriginal people about 300 years ago were found.
"[The Kavalan Aborigines] really excelled at making pottery. The thickness of the pieces, on which elegant geometric patterns can be observed, ranges from a mere 0.1cm to 0.5cm," said Chiou Shiou-lan (
In the upper layer, 125 burial sites have also been found.
According to a survey in 1648 by the Dutch -- who colonized parts of Taiwan in the 17th century -- among the 39 villages on the Lanyang plain at the time, Kibannoran was the largest one, and was home to about 840 Kavalan Aboriginal people from 160 families.
So far, researchers have investigated an area covering 3,750m2, where 262 excavation pits are located. More than 200,000 Kavalan cultural artifacts -- including more than 30 kinds of seashells (indicating a thriving maritime culture), stone instruments, metal ornaments, wooden carvings and other items -- have been salvaged from the site and are being held by the bureau and National Taiwan University. The project has been regarded as the most successful excavation site on the plain. It has also contributed a lot to the study of Kavalan culture.